The Sheikh's Secret Bride(Desert Rogues, Book 3)(48) by Susan Mallery
“I don’t know what to say,” she murmured in complete truthfulness. What did one say when presented with such a gift? Malik reached into the box and drew out a stunning sapphire and diamond necklace that he fastened around her neck. When he was done, she saw the matching earrings and put them on. Then she glanced at her reflection.
“I’m a stranger,” she said, looking at the sophisticated woman staring back at her.
“You are most worthy,” Malik informed her.
She met his gaze in the mirror and had the oddest feeling that he meant she was worthy for much more than attending the evening’s dinner. But how could he be sure? He barely knew her. She could be many horrible things he’d yet to discover.
Still, he held out his arm and she slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow. At least she had the next few weeks to find out the answer to that question…and many others. The most important of which was—would she stay?
Liana managed to keep breathing right up until they walked through the open double doors of the ballroom, but when she saw the milling people and heard a loud voice announcing “Crown Prince Malik and Princess Liana,” she felt she would pass out from a combination of anticipation and fear. To make matters worse, every person in the room turned to look at them.
For the second time that day reality crashed into her with all the subtlety of a herd of wild Arabian horses. If she stayed married to this man, one day she would be queen.
“I suggest you start breathing,” Malik murmured into her ear. “If you smile and nod, they’ll start talking with each other again, but I promise, if you pass out, you’ll be the center of attention all evening.”
She sucked in a breath. “I don’t want that.”
Malik smiled at her—one of those slow, male smiles that was as sweet, rich and tempting as freshly made Christmas fudge. “Try to relax, Liana. You’re charming and very beautiful. No one but me is going to know how close you are to throwing up from nerves.”
She nearly stumbled on the smooth floor. She didn’t know which shocked her more. That he’d figured out how close she was to losing control, or his comment that she was beautiful and charming. Was that how Malik saw her?
She didn’t get a chance to mull over his words because she found herself swept into a river of introductions. The royal family formed a reception line with her tucked neatly between Malik and his brother Jamal. A uniformed officer introduced the guests to each of them. Liana shook hands with ministers, a visiting European head of state, the King of Bahania, all four of his handsome sons, along with his spirited-looking daughter. She was verbally admired, congratulated on her marriage and generally made to feel as if her marriage to Malik was nothing out of the ordinary.
Her mind whirled, her mouth hurt from smiling and she found out that her lovely dyed-to-match shoes had not been designed for over an hour of standing. Just when she was sure she wouldn’t survive another moment, everyone was invited to move into the dining room. King Givon and the King of Bahania escorted Fatima into the great hall. Malik and Liana went next, walking alongside the Crown Prince of Bahania.
If the ballroom had been awash with glittering lights and jewelry, the dining room was a fairyland of opulence. Thick brocade tablecloths fell to the floor. There were candles everywhere, the flickering light reflecting in the crystal and fine china. Exotic blossoms in different shades of red formed elegant centerpieces. In the far corner, a small orchestra provided background music and several dozen uniformed servers moved silently to assist guests to their seats.
Overhead, thousands of tiny white lights twinkled like stars against a darkly tiled ceiling. As in most rooms of the palace, the floors were marble. Liana found herself led to a table set up on a dais, where she was seated between Malik and the King of Bahania. They were to dine in full view of all their guests. She swallowed hard.
Malik leaned close. “What are you thinking?”
“That I really don’t want to spill my water or drop food off my fork in front of all these people.”
He reached under the tablecloth and found her hand. After squeezing her fingers gently, he released her, seemingly oblivious to the fire that flared between them with the light touch. “You’ll get used to it. Besides, once the meal is served, most people are more concerned with their own dinner and the conversation at their table than what is happening up here.”
She shifted so that her lips nearly touched his ear. “Am I supposed to make small talk with a king?”
“You’ve had conversations with my father.”
She wanted to point out that that was different, but she wasn’t sure Malik would understand. After all, he’d grown up in this world and it was all he knew.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “You’ll be fine.”
His steady gaze spoke of his faith in her abilities. Although she knew that she could very easily mess up, she found herself wanting to prove him right—for his own sake as well as hers. Oddly enough she liked that he believed in her and assumed she would do well.
She glanced around the room and smiled when she caught someone staring. A flash of movement caught her attention and she turned to see a young man speaking with a girl a few years younger. The teenagers stood awkwardly, as if they would run from each other at any moment.
The King of Bahania noticed her interest. “My youngest,” he said proudly. “He’s just discovering the charms of the gentler sex.”
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